Cape Town’s dog owners are being advised to be on high alert – a worrying spike in the canine distemper virus has been reported in the city. A distemper outbreak in Knysna led to a total of 271 dogs being euthanised between March and August this year.

The first cases were reported on Charlie Lawack Street in Knysna’s Hornlee neighbourhood, when 10 dogs came down with the ‘aerosol’ disease. The Animal Welfare Society of South Africa (AWS) in Philipi, which provides its services to the entire Cape Metro area, has reported a spike in canine distemper cases.

“We are seeing an average of 10 to 20 cases per week,” said Marlene Hirsekorn, nurse at AWS Philipi. “We’ve had distemper cases rolling in for as long as I have worked here, but this high number of cases is unusual.”

Hirsekorn added that the high number of cases reported in the Cape Metro means that the area is now considered a “hot spot”.

“Dogs are brought in from different neighbourhoods, so we cannot pinpoint one specific place as a hotbed of distemper,” she added. “We’ve had dogs brought in from Mitchell’s Plain, Bloekombos, Manenberg… And there may be more cases as there are many owners who just don’t bring their sick dogs in.”

Unfortunately, many of the Cape Metro cases brought in have a hopeless prognosis, leaving AWS with no option but to euthanise the dog to end its suffering.

“In a few instances, we have been able to offer supportive care. Being highly contagious, such cases are managed on an outpatient basis and the owner educated regarding the risk and spread of the virus,” Allan Perrins, AWS spokesperson, told IOL. “In domestic dogs, while the acute generalised form of distemper has a high mortality rate, disease duration and severity depends largely on the dog’s age and immune status and virulence of the infecting strain of the virus.”

Perrins said that AWS has placed strict bio-security protocols in place to prevent the spread of disease using methods ranging from basic foot-baths to costly sprays.

“Animals in our care, for example, hospital patients, impounded or stray animals and animals up for adoption, are safely isolated and carefully monitored to ensure their health and welfare,” he said. “Their needs are not seen to by the hospital team who work in a high-risk area. Our kennels are very responsibly managed, disinfected and fumigated regularly to prevent the spread of disease and as a rule we do not wittingly admit infected animals, so there has not been a need to place our kennels under quarantine.”

Dogs that have not been vaccinated and come into contact with an animal infected by distemper are at a particularly high risk of contracting this disease.

The symptoms of distemper include:
– Diarrhea
– Continued fever
– Pneumonia (Characterised by laboured breathing and coughing)
– Depletion of white blood cells
– Vomiting
– Hardening of the pads of the feet
– Unusual tooth enamel
– Depression
Ataxia, an inability to coordinate the muscles
Hyperesthesia, a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, like touch and pain
– Myoclonus, disabling muscle spasms
– Paralysis, partial or complete
– Deterioration of mental abilities and motor skills
– Seizures affecting any part of the body. One type of head seizure that is unique to distemper is sometimes called “the chewing gum fit”
About distemper: 
Canine distemper is commonly seen in young puppies between three and six months of age but can occasionally be found in younger or older pets. While it is primarily a disease of dogs, it can also be seen in other animals, such ferrets, coyotes, foxes, raccoons and skunks, and is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of the infected animal.

Dog owners are urged to bring their dogs in for a vaccination, and in cases where the owner cannot afford to have their canine friend vaccinated, AWS may provide the service for free.

Picture: Pixabay

Article written by

Lucinda Dordley

Lucinda is a hard news writer who occasionally dabbles in lifestyle writing, and recent journalism graduate. She is a proud intersectional feminist, and is passionate about actively creating a world which is free of discrimination and inequality.